Mental Health Awareness: Why it’s OK to ask for help when you’re not OK

Published 7:13 am Saturday, May 18, 2024

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to shedding light on mental health issues, reducing stigma and promoting resources available for those in need. For many, mental health is an invisible battle — one that requires understanding, support and care. That care is available at Family & Youth.

“Mental health is a silent killer and I hate to use that phrase, but it is,” said Logan Tijerina, director of the Family & Youth Counseling Agency. “It’s something that you can’t physically see so people kind of write it off as, ‘It’s not impacting my day to day’ or ‘It’s something I’ll just get over and I’ll move on and move forward.’ But just like if you were to have a broken leg you wouldn’t walk it off; you need to go see a doctor, get a cast, get surgery or whatever you need to fix that.”

Tijerina said bringing awareness to mental health is just as important as caring for one’s physical health.

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Rickki Young, a provisionally licensed professional counselor at the agency, said a good way to deal with mental health issues is to talk about it and “be willing to put yourself in a position to be vulnerable and really open up and express your concerns.”

“You can come sit in my chair, but unless you’re willing to be vulnerable and really dive deep, it’s going to be hard to really address things that are troubling you,” Young said. “We can scratch the surface but that will only get us so far. That’s just like putting a Band-Aid on a deep cut when you need stitches.”

A lot of people rely on such bandages as comfort blankets.

“When you start a mental health journey, it’s like you’re coming in and you’re saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been through some things and here are all my scars. They’ve healed nicely,’” Tijerina said. “But it’s our job to kind of say, ‘Well, is it healed nicely? Is it healed in the way you would want it to be healed? If you’re open to it, let’s re-evaluate that, let’s look at that.’ I think that’s a big part of why people are scared — the vulnerability aspect. By taking that Band-Aid off and exposing it for what it really is then you can truly heal.”

Tijerina said there are several symptoms people aren’t aware of that are correlated with mental health.

“If you’re experiencing stomach ulcers and you’ve changed your diet, you’ve changed your exercising but you still have stomach ulcers, it’s possibly related to stress and that’s something your body is trying to cope with but it’s not able to because you’re not getting to the root of the issue,” she said. “You can take medication after medication, it’s still not going to help.”

It can be the same with headaches.

“We clinch our jaw and we don’t know why we have all these things that are physically ailing us,” Tijerina said. “It’s because we’re not getting to the root of it — how you’re caring for your mental health. You may carry your tension in your shoulders. Addressing the mental will help solve the physical.”

Young said one’s mental health can change over time — particularly when encountering “life-stressors.”

“You can go from being in a really healthy space to having one incident happening — whether it be a big thing or a little thing — and that one incident can impact whether or not you go from a very healthy state to needing some assistance for how you’re dealing with things, how you’re handling things,” Young said.

The same is true in reverse.

“You can go from having extremely poor mental health to having really great mental health after getting the help you need,” Young said.

Young said Family & Youth is a “judgment-free zone.”

“It’s a safe space,” she said. “I’m here to help and be a listening ear and be a safe person you can express things to. You’re not going to tell me anything I haven’t heard before or that I will judge you for. We’re all humans, we’ve all been through things, we all have stuff. There’s nothing that you can say that would turn your counselor away from you or make them no longer want to help you. Your vulnerability is going to make them want to help you more.”

Tijerina’s favorite phrase is “give it a shot.”

“Give me, at minimum, six sessions and if at the end of those six sessions you’re like, ‘Hey, love you but gotta go,’ that’s completely fine and you can rest easy knowing you gave it a shot,” she said. “But as Rickki said, you can come and sit in my chair and we can just sit in silence if that’s what you need or if you need recommendations or need that listening ear, you let us know where you’re at and we will meet you there. If it’s someone to challenge and to push you we can do that, as well.”

Tijerina said just like a student at school, if a client doesn’t take what is taught and apply it to real-life situations it’s never going to be learned. It will be an issue that continues.

“It can also mold into something else,” she said.

Some signs of mental illness are irritability, restlessness, fatigue, weight gain or loss, or not feeling one’s self.

Tijerina said their agency caters to
individuals, families, couples and children.

“We’re also advocating for our front-line workers, the first responders, police officers, nurses, teachers — anyone that’s had to deal with the changes that have happened in our environment here and how it’s affected them,” she said.

Tijerina said mental illness is more common than people think.

“It’s a silent killer because no one wants to talk about it; there’s a stigma,” she said. “I think we’ve been raised, especially in the South, to just give it up to God, pray about it, talk to a family member, talk to a pastor and not realize there is a step beyond that. Yes, those things may be helpful and we encourage support groups and growing your community but I think talking to a trained counselor is needed, too.”

Tijerina said experiences cause mental illness.

“Yes, there are some things caused by genetics — and you can’t help that you were dealt those cards — but what I mean by experiences is how you handle things,” she said. “We all go through stuff. Sometimes we handle it in a healthy way and sometimes we handle it in an unhealthy way but it’s up to you to decide do I want to continue this or not.”

She said a lot of the mental health issues people experience are happening because of what their minds that was appropriate in that moment to cope.

“Because we were in that survival moment and that’s what helped and that’s what stuck that’s what we kept,” Tijerina said. “We’ve just been in survival, survival, survival until we’re years removed and we’re still doing the same behavior but not in that same experience, not in that same environment. We’ve held on to this because now it’s become a comfort. It’s now become a part of us. You can change that but you have to address what happened. You have to realize you no longer need that security blanket, you no longer need that coping skill, and move forward.”

Tijerina and Young said they have to take care of themselves, too — and that sometimes involves therapy, as well.

“We go through things the exact same way that others do. Just because we’re teaching others how to handle things in a healthy way doesn’t mean we always take our own advice,” Tijerina said with a laugh. “It’s so much easier to dish it than to take it.”

She said self-care is so important.

“We get in these clouded moments and you have to find those small moments — I call them “pockets of sunshine” — where the sun is peeking through the clouds,” Tijerina said. “It’s realizing it’s not all gray all the time.”